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Marginal Tax Rates and Income: New Time Series Evidence

Listed author(s):
  • Karel Mertens
  • José L. Montiel Olea

Using new narrative measures of exogenous variation in marginal tax rates associated with postwar tax reforms in the US, this study estimates short run tax elasticities of reported income of around 1.2 based on time series from 1946 to 2012. Elasticities are larger in the top 1% of the income distribution but are also positive and statistically significant for other income groups. Previous time series studies of tax returns data have found little evidence for income responses to taxes outside the top of the income distribution. The different results in this study arise because of additional efforts to account for dynamics, expectations and especially the endogeneity of tax policy decisions. Marginal rate cuts lead to increases in real GDP and declines in unemployment. This study also presents evidence that the responses are to marginal tax rates rather than average tax rates. Counterfactual tax cuts targeting the top 1% alone have short-run positive effects on economic activity and incomes outside of the top 1%, but increase inequality in pre-tax incomes. Cuts for taxpayers outside of the top 1% also lead to increases in incomes and economic activity, but with a longer delay.

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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w19171.pdf
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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 19171.

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Date of creation: Jun 2013
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:19171
Note: ME PE
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  1. Raj Chetty, 2009. "Is the Taxable Income Elasticity Sufficient to Calculate Deadweight Loss? The Implications of Evasion and Avoidance," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 1(2), pages 31-52, August.
  2. Karel Mertens & Morten O. Ravn, 2013. "The Dynamic Effects of Personal and Corporate Income Tax Changes in the United States," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 103(4), pages 1212-1247, June.
  3. Anton Braun, R., 1994. "Tax disturbances and real economic activity in the postwar United States," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 33(3), pages 441-462, June.
  4. Seth H. Giertz, 2010. "The Elasticity of Taxable Income during the 1990s: New Estimates and Sensitivity Analyses," Southern Economic Journal, Southern Economic Association, vol. 77(2), pages 406-433, October.
  5. Gruber, Jon & Saez, Emmanuel, 2002. "The elasticity of taxable income: evidence and implications," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 84(1), pages 1-32, April.
  6. Burnside, Craig & Eichenbaum, Martin & Fisher, Jonas D. M., 2004. "Fiscal shocks and their consequences," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 115(1), pages 89-117, March.
  7. Born, Benjamin & Peter, Alexandra & Pfeifer, Johannes, 2013. "Fiscal news and macroeconomic volatility," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 37(12), pages 2582-2601.
  8. Karel Mertens & Morten Overgaard Ravn, 2011. "Understanding the Aggregate Effects of Anticipated and Unanticipated Tax Policy Shocks," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 14(1), pages 27-54, January.
  9. Christina D. Romer & David H. Romer, 2010. "The Macroeconomic Effects of Tax Changes: Estimates Based on a New Measure of Fiscal Shocks," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 100(3), pages 763-801, June.
  10. Barro, Robert J & Sahasakul, Chaipat, 1983. "Measuring the Average Marginal Tax Rate from the Individual Income Tax," The Journal of Business, University of Chicago Press, vol. 56(4), pages 419-452, October.
  11. Alan J. Auerbach & Yuriy Gorodnichenko, 2012. "Measuring the Output Responses to Fiscal Policy," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 4(2), pages 1-27, May.
  12. Goncalves, Silvia & Kilian, Lutz, 2004. "Bootstrapping autoregressions with conditional heteroskedasticity of unknown form," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 123(1), pages 89-120, November.
  13. Karel Mertens & Morten O. Ravn, 2012. "Empirical Evidence on the Aggregate Effects of Anticipated and Unanticipated US Tax Policy Shocks," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 4(2), pages 145-181, May.
  14. James H. Stock & Mark W. Watson, 2012. "Disentangling the Channels of the 2007-09 Recession," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 43(1 (Spring), pages 81-156.
  15. Nezih Guner & Remzi Kaygusuz & Gustavo Ventura, 2014. "Income Taxation of U.S. Households: Facts and Parametric Estimates," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 17(4), pages 559-581, October.
  16. Mertens, Karel & Ravn, Morten O., 2014. "A reconciliation of SVAR and narrative estimates of tax multipliers," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 68(S), pages 1-19.
  17. Feldstein, Martin, 1995. "Effect of Marginal Tax Rates on Taxable Income: A Panel Study of the 1986 Tax Reform Act," Scholarly Articles 2766676, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  18. Christina D. Romer & David H. Romer, 2014. "The Incentive Effects of Marginal Tax Rates: Evidence from the Interwar Era," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 6(3), pages 242-281, August.
  19. Feldstein, Martin, 1995. "The Effect of Marginal Tax Rates on Taxable Income: A Panel Study of the 1986 Tax Reform Act," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 103(3), pages 551-572, June.
  20. Triest, Robert K., 1998. "Econometric Issues in Estimating the Behavioral Response to Taxation: A Nontechnical Introduction," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 51(4), pages 761-772, December.
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  22. Emmanuel Saez & Joel Slemrod & Seth H. Giertz, 2012. "The Elasticity of Taxable Income with Respect to Marginal Tax Rates: A Critical Review," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 50(1), pages 3-50, March.
  23. Emmanuel Saez, 2001. "Using Elasticities to Derive Optimal Income Tax Rates," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 68(1), pages 205-229.
  24. Robert J. Barro & Chaipat Sahasakul, 1983. "Measuring the Average Marginal Tax Rates from Social Security and the Individual Income Tax," University of Chicago - George G. Stigler Center for Study of Economy and State 29, Chicago - Center for Study of Economy and State.
  25. Susan Yang, Shu-Chun, 2005. "Quantifying tax effects under policy foresight," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 52(8), pages 1557-1568, November.
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